John Coltrane, the great American jazz saxophonist and composer, once said that to be a better artist you have to be a better person. He could easily have been talking about leadership. It’s not about your title; it’s about who you are as a person. And you can be a better leader by working on being a better person. You must be, before you can do. To accomplish much, be much. The doing must be the expression of the being. It is foolish to think that we can accomplish much without first preparing ourselves by being honest, caring, unselfish, and trustworthy.
Leadership is about creating results through others, while helping people around you grow and flourish – without the use of positional power. It’s about presence, not position. The question is: Where does that sense of presence come from? How does one develop that presence? After years of research and observation, I’ve come to understand that sense of presence comes essentially from being a good person. It’s that easy, and it’s that difficult. Here are a few ways to develop your leadership presence by being a good person:
- Earn the respect of others through self-respect. We’ve all met people who are bright, talented, competent, and good at making deals, but something about who they are as a person got in the way of all their ability. Certain abilities belong on a resumé, and certain virtues belong in a eulogy. If you think about it, it’s the qualities written in a eulogy that are the ones that truly matter when it comes to earning trust as a leader. People of strong character are integrated human beings.
- To lead you have to connect. To connect, you have to care. You can’t fake caring, just like you can’t fake character. When coaching an executive and discussing possible reasons for the lack of results from his team I asked, “Do you care?” he kept going on about his frustration for the lack of accountability on the team and the poor attitude of his employees. I pushed further, “I know you care about results, but do you care about the people around you? Do you care about what matters to them, about their families and their values and their unique gifts?” After a long pause he shrugged his shoulders and said, “No, not really.” I then suggested he do his organization and himself a favor and step down from the responsibility of management. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership is a largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating them.
- Centered leaders know their worth, strength, and security comes from within. Because they don’t define themselves by their external environment, they can remain calm in the midst of the storms, secure in the midst of failure, and keep perspective in the midst of success. Centered leaders are guided by an internal compass based on their own values and their own approach to life rather than the fleeting opinions of others or comparisons to others. They are focused on what matters and are able to go within and find inner strength, wisdom, and stability, even in the midst of a demanding external world.
- A commitment to contribute beyond yourself, whether it’s across the world or across the corridor, makes a great leader. Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have devoted much of their energy to global development philanthropy. While in Ottawa to discuss overseas aid with the Canadian government, he said, in part, “In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, where a lot of people are doing quite well, the question is: Can you take your loyalty and your values and go further than yourself and your family, even beyond your region and your country? Can you have, as a member of the human race, the idea that you would volunteer time or your voice, or whatever means you have to give? … people want to be associated with more than their own success – they want to have knowledge and a sense of progress that they contributed to [something beyond themselves]… We call that our ‘global citizenship’ movement.” Bill Gates understands that being a good person means allowing your success to overflow into making life better for others.
Being a good leader by being a good person cannot be taught in a leadership course or from a textbook. But it can be learned. It can be developed. My dad would say that it can be caught even though it can’t be taught. It means your motive is do good by being good. And it amounts to leading well by living well.